I’m a sad academic. I know I’m not the only one. Working in academia is difficult enough in normal times. In the era of COVID19, it’s a living nightmare.
I cry often, but not in front of colleagues. When I’m at work, I use the restrooms to conceal my tears and sadness. I don’t want my colleagues to know how I feel. They say that we should talk openly about our feelings at work, but the truth is that no one really wants to listen. They have their own problems, anyway. No one is really interested in helping each other. We’re all too busy just trying to survive.
I think the bigger problem of talking openly about my depression is that news of my illness will eventually get back to my departmental chair. Depression is a red flag for any organization. It means that I qualify as disabled and am therefore entitled to reasonable accommodations. Managers hate employees with mental impairments because they require extra support and are a legal liability.
Superficially, I suppose I am a success. I earned tenure and supposedly have job security, but in light of this pandemic, we’ve all learned that tenure is meaningless as long as universities claim a financial exigency. Universities can easily get rid of anyone, tenured or not, simply by saying that there is not enough work to justify that role anymore.
We are all vulnerable in this sense. Any day we could wake up to find a redundancy notice. And if we lose our jobs, we have no immediate opportunities for re-employment in academia at the moment. For many, it will simply mean the end of a career.
Sad academics like me are often told how much privilege we have. That’s true, from a certain point of view. We do have some occupational privileges that others don’t have. But the thing about crippling depression is that it can happen to anyone: rich and poor, presidents and peasants, men and women, the elderly and the young. When a privileged person like me is depressed, this only adds to the guilt.
“The thing about crippling depression is that it can happen to anyone: rich and poor, presidents and peasants, men and women, the elderly and the young. When a privileged person like me is depressed, this only adds to the guilt.”
Sometimes I feel like I just have to go. Go somewhere. Anywhere but here. Geographical changes don’t really help because the depression follows the person. But I still have this intense motivation just to leave. I don’t know where I would go. Maybe to a new town where I could keep to myself and never have to talk with anyone again. Maybe to the wilderness where I can escape on my own. If I left, someone else could easily teach my courses.
I feel let down by humanity. I feel let down by my university. I have no control over my environment and just roll with the punches. That’s why I’m a sad academic.
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